On May 15th, a strategic workshop brought together doctors, researchers, patients, and health leaders from across Australia to address the critical issue of heart attack and stroke in rural and remote communities. Held in Dubbo, the event saw participation from local GP Dr. Mark Tattersall, Councillor Sally Davies, and Dubbo Cardiologist Tilak Sirisena, among others.


Co-hosted by the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance and the University of Sydney’s Cardiovascular Initiative, the workshop focused on the stark disparities in heart and stroke health outcomes between rural areas and urban centres. For instance, Bourke has a cardiovascular mortality rate more than four times that of Northern Sydney.


The workshop also highlighted the significant healthcare “access challenges” faced by regional, rural, and remote communities. Local clinicians and healthcare workers highlighted long waiting times to see GPs, who are often locums, limited specialist care and services, financial barriers to medication, tyranny of distance, and a shortage of permanent healthcare staff as compounding factors. These challenges exacerbate the inequities in heart attack and stroke outcomes.


Mildura resident Katrina Umback shared a poignant story about her husband’s struggle to receive timely diagnosis and treatment for chest tightness and breathlessness. Unfortunately, due to the lack of definitive testing for coronary artery disease, he missed out on preventative care and suffered a fatal heart attack at age 42.

The workshop aimed to engage the community in the development of actionable strategies to reduce this burden and leverage health data to measure inequities and improvements.


The day was structured into four insightful sessions:

  • Setting the Scene
  • Primary Prevention
  • Acute Care
  • Secondary Prevention

The workshop encouraged local community members to prioritise innovative solutions for heart attack and stroke prevention, including increasing community awareness about standard cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.


One notable initiative already underway in Bourke involves mobile cardiac CT capabilities, which allows for early detection and treatment of coronary artery disease, allowing effective treatments to be administered to prevent heart attacks.


The workshop also heard from Dr. Andrew Goodman, a researcher in Queensland, about a successful Indigenous Cardiac Outreach Program (ICOP) that brings tertiary cardiac services to rural and remote communities in Queensland four times a year. Established in 2007, this program now treats 2,000 patients annually and is authored and driven by local Indigenous leaders, serving as an exemplar of what can be achieved.


Heart attacks should be almost entirely preventable as more cutting-edge technologies and therapies emerge. However, the next challenge will be how to bring these technologies to the bush. The diverse group of national experts and local community representatives will continue to work together to help target guideline-based best care to areas of greatest need and to develop locally relevant metrics that can contribute to a data dashboard of heart and stroke outcomes.


A summary of the discussion and key messages from the day can be found here.